Christmas and the messy Family Tree

advent.wreathThis Advent I am preaching twice on the genealogy of Jesus found in Matthew 1:1-17.  It turns out to be pretty interesting.

In verse 1 and 17 Jesus is linked to Abraham, David and the Babylonian captivity.  This is how the family tree breaks out in the verses between.

  • Abraham to David is where the history of Israel goes from start to golden age.  We could call this section of history “creation” in the sense that God created and shaped a nation to be a blessing to the world.
  • David to Babylon is where the history of Israel falls on hard times.  David is both the high point and the dividing line, because of his adultery and murder, the House of David starts a sharp descent.  The kings that follow are mostly bad, even the good kings such as Solomon, Hezekiah and Josiah are flawed. This section of the history could be called the “fall”.
  • Babylon to Christ is the story of Restoration – slowly with many starts and stops – the nation is restored under Zerubbabel, Ezra and Nehemiah. But it ends in the birth of the Messiah.

So the family tree shows a parallel to the history of salvation;  Creation, fall and restoration.

There are three important titles:  son of Abraham, son of David and Christ.   Jesus was born to fulfill the calling to Abraham to be a blessing to the nations, he is to be a good ruler from the line of David who brings peace to the nations, and he is the Anointed one – the Messiah who was promised from the prophets on.

Then there are these odd additions to the family tree.

  • Tamar who was tricked by her father in law out of her rights who then turned a trick on him.  This Gentile adulteress-trickster is int he line of Christ.
  • Rahab was a prostitute who put her trust in the God of Israel
  • Ruth was a gentile who took the faith of her husbands people as her own.
  • “the wife of Uriah” is Bathsheba, who was the “other woman” in David’s life, yet she is also the mother of Solomon and in the line of Christ.
  • Mary, an unmarried young woman who carried a child under very unusual circumstances.

So the Gospel comes as a fulfillment of the historic promises of God to Abraham and David.  It is also a promise that the Messiah comes as part of the history of sinners.  He did not come to a world that looked like most Christmas cards, but to one that looks like the real messy world we actually live in.

The mission of Jesus is for messy people.  Good thing that.

Law or Legalism?

scribe.2There is some question of how the Biblical texts on redemption of property and levirate marriage fits the situation with Ruth – it is Naomi’s property to be restored and her family line to be perpetuated, but that goes through Ruth.

Here is a background quote that gives perspective.

“…one must recall the nature of biblical legal materials. Against popular impression, they do not offer a comprehensive instruction which covers every imaginable case. Rather, they constitute instructions about sample or crucial topics from which inferences about all other cases are to be drawn.  Their goal s is more to inculcate Israel’s fundamental value system in its people than to provide handy legal references for judicial bodies.  Thus, attempts to align the customs in Ruth precisely with the details of three frequently cited texts (Gen 38; Lev 25:25-34; Dt. 25:5-10) are unnecessary and ill-advised.  On the contrary the value of such texts exceeds their simple, procedural details; rather, they are mirrors of Israel’s treasured values.  With reference to Ruth, they reflect how strongly Israel valued the survival of families through descendants and family ownership of ancestral property.”

Robert L Hubbard, Jr, The Book of Ruth (NICOT), Eerdmans, 1988

I was recently part of a discussion on divorce and remarriage.  A very strict legal reading of the NT texts might suggest prohibiting any remarriage and limiting divorce to only infidelity and abandonment.  but are the NT “laws” to be read in that way, or are they case-law and expressions of values by which we should decide in particular cases what is to be done.  In ministry one encounters many situations what require wisdom beyond a close reading of the rules.

A theme in Ruth is “hesed” a Hebrew word that means faith, often in the sense of faithfulness. God’s faithfulness to his people whom he has chosen.  Boaz’s and Ruth’s faithfulness expressed in their actions and commitments.